Beginner Tools for Spindles

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Forum topic by jta posted 03-16-2020 03:38 PM 576 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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57 posts in 695 days

03-16-2020 03:38 PM

Topic tags/keywords: turning

So on the advice of those here decided to give things a try before getting in. Got a chance to try a lathe when visiting family back in AU (didn’t know a family member turned, but he is relatively new to it) before this whole shutdown and decided that this is something I’d like to give more of a go, and initially at least focus on the pen/spindle side of things, before moving to add bowls after I have practiced my technique for a while. Saw the low pricing on the Jet 1221VS so decided to pull the trigger, along with a decent face shield (UVEX) and the Nova G3 Anniversary chuck kit. I already have a Grizzly 10” wet grinder I use for my hand tools, so also planning to invest in something like the Oneway Wolverine for helping on the sharpening.

So naturally with a lathe on the way, that brings up tools. I’ve read a lot on here and elsewhere and I think I’d rather try traditional tools than easy types, but I’m open to being convinced. I’ve seen conflicting thoughts on the buy better, buy a cheap set until you get used to… and really don’t have a feel on the best approach. The family member who let me try his lathe used Sorby, and they felt alright to a novice like me, but I wanted to see what folks here thoughts were on other brands and options, as I’ve got some really good advice here. My main concern is I’d rather not have tools that are just going to break, and hopefully can hold a decent edge (though sometimes one wonders if some of the reviews you read relate to beginners improperly using the tool in the first place).

Tool wise he recommended what he started with:
1” Roughing Gouge,
1/2” Spindle Gouge,
A thin parting tool rather than a regular (lose less wood).
1” skew.

Is this going to be reasonable to get started on working with spindle or pen turning or am I going to need to round out from here? Is Sorby a decent quality tool, or should I be looking elsewhere?

15 replies so far

View LesB's profile


2576 posts in 4252 days

#1 posted 03-16-2020 05:43 PM

OK, you have a good start equipment wise but thist is a wide open subject with a new turner and will probably get lots of opinions and comments.
Sorby makes good tools. I would not recommend inexpensive tools as their quality and edge holding may not be good. For the average turner good tools last for years and I have never experiences a broken tool or even heard of it. Also the edge holding will vary with the type of wood you work on. Some have a high silicate contend that dulls tools fairly quickly….Myrtle wood (Calif. Bay Laurel) is one.

Also with out some instruction the spindle gouge and the skew can be a little hazardous to use for beginners, so go carefully there. Once they are mastered they are great tools. Also a thin parting tool will reduce wood loss (if that is a problem, which it usually is not) but you still need to make the cut wide enough to prevent the tool from binding. I use mine mostly for decorative cuts. I personally like the “standard’ diamond shaped parting tool because it pretty much clears it’s own kerf.

While is is often scorned by advanced turners the use of “scraping” tools are the easiest to master and the relative new carbide tip scrapers are great because they need no sharpening. One qualification on carbide cutters it that they do not usually produce as fine a cut at HSS but they are great for roughing to shape.

To reduce your learning curve try to find some place or person to get instruction.

With wood turning you are headed down the proverbial rabbit hole of addiction.
Be safe.

-- Les B, Oregon

View MrUnix's profile


8164 posts in 3008 days

#2 posted 03-16-2020 06:15 PM

Wow – I can just say that I would not go hog wild on a spending spree unless you just have too much money – at least until you are sure woodturning is something that you would like to really pursue. I see way too many people throw a bunch of money at the hobby only to discover it is not for them. There are plenty of ways to dip a toe into the pond without jumping in all at once.

You already have a grinder, so I’d hold off on any further sharpening expenses until you get a feel for it. You can actually make a wolverine style jig easily if needed (see this video by Capt. Eddie for one such example). I’d also hold off on any uber-expensive tooling for the same reason. I’d recommend getting something like the cheap HF HSS set, or maybe Benjamin’s Best (at PSI) if you want to spend a bit more. Those will be all you need to learn and will let you practice your sharpening skills without breaking the bank.

Heck, woodturning is an ancient art and those old guys didn’t have the luxury of throwing money at tools – so they made their own. I have made dozens of various gouges and skews for specific detail shapes (as well as just generic), all for free from old discarded screwdrivers and similar. For pens and spindles, you don’t really need much… a gouge (3/8-1/2” should be fine) and a scraper is all you really need. If you want a parting tool, a V nosed one will do double duty as a scraper.


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View Kelly's profile


3053 posts in 3754 days

#3 posted 03-16-2020 06:59 PM

I would have suggested about the same (roughing gouge, etc.).

You’ll want to add a 3/8” spindle gouge later, for the finder detail work, but that’s just part of the mandatory vortex thing that comes with owning a lathe, or two.

My knives are all over the place, but I have zero complaints about the Benjamin’s Best, when compared to my higher end knives. I, also, have a Crown for detail work and I love it for that.

Both the Crown and the Benjamin’s hold an edge well. Higher end knives MAY hold it better. Then there is the issue of if you go to carbide, but that’s coming in from another angle (pun intended).

View bigJohninvegas's profile


789 posts in 2271 days

#4 posted 03-16-2020 07:36 PM

I started out with a Sorby set. 6 or 7 tool set.
I still have and use all but the bowl gouge. That one I wore out learning to sharpen. That set pretty much had a good sampling of tools to get started.
I think a roughing, spindle, bowl gouge, parting tool, skew, and a small scraper. So 6 piece set. Some tool brands you will find cheaper. And may be good to get started. And it seems cheaper does not always mean less quality. But I have noticed that often cheaper means less flute in a gouge. So less usable tool. Just something to look for when choosing. Like Brad said, don’t go crazy.
And on the subject of Sorby brand. Tool steel is from Sheffield England. Many other brands too, like crown, all the same steel. If one brand has a better price or sale. Go for it over Sorby.
Good luck.

-- John

View mike02719's profile


247 posts in 4595 days

#5 posted 03-16-2020 08:57 PM

A good place to start is with minimum turning equipment. A carbide rougher will get every project started and no sharpening needed. Also a carbide detail gouge will do a lot for you. Look around the net for a good deal and select the mid size tools. They are more expensive than Ben’s Best or Hurricane but require no sharpening or sharpening equipment. Beginners seem to do better learning with carbides. You will also need a parting tool which is one of the least expensive tools. You mentioned Sorby tools. Very good but not necessary for someone starting out that has next to nothing. Good luck

-- Mike, Massachusetts

View OSU55's profile


2651 posts in 2799 days

#6 posted 03-17-2020 02:20 AM

Carbide – I suppose for those itching to get something off the lathe they are the way to go, but they only teach you how to use a scraper (Hunter tools sells some cup type inserts and tools, hi $, that can do bevel rubbing cuts). If you go that route Capn Eddie and AZ Carbide are 2 sources for inserts, make your own “holders” from mild steel and your own handles. I only use carbide for hollow forms inside due to surface finish. The bevel rubbing tools do a lot better surface.

I think every beginner needs to give std hss tools a try. Some just cant get the hang of it, carbide is always there. Recommend Benjamins Best – buy 2 tools for the price of name brand stuff, and beginners will use metal learning to grind and then reshaping and changing bevel angles. Add a regular width diamond parting tool, a 3/8” spindle gouge, and a 3/4” or so scraper to your list. Get a scraper kit of 3 they will be reshaped and used.

I use a Grizzly wet grinder with tormek svd-86 gouge jig for resharpening gouges but its about useless for shaping. I use a 8” slow speed with a tormek bgm-100 for shaping. Scrapers are done on the bench grinder with a platform and can be resharpened on the griz but not shaped.

Probably cheaper to get a bench grinder and wolverine/vari grind setup.

View Wildwood's profile


2879 posts in 2944 days

#7 posted 03-17-2020 11:26 AM

Not clear on where you live, but would recommend two catalogs from these vendors because they provide all major brand conventional & carbide tools and offer discounts if buy more than one tool at a time:

Beauty of catalog each brand has its own page and broke down into spindle, bowls, etc:

Here is good primer on turning tools, bevel angles, just keep in mind some of those things change with turners experience & personal preferences.

I recommend staying away from tool set because will end up tolls will never use. My recommendations differ from what you list due to what say want to start turning:

Skew chisels: ½” or ¾”
Spindle gouges: both 3/8” & ½”
Roughing gouge: ¾”
Parting tools: Diamond parting tool with buying narrow parting tool later.

Since don’t know you tool buying budget and even thought don’t normally recommend buying tool set these spindle set too inexpensive to ignore. These tool sets can help you learn to turn spindles, experiment with different bevel angles and how to sharpen!

-- Bill

View OSU55's profile


2651 posts in 2799 days

#8 posted 03-17-2020 02:39 PM

BTW Mark Silay has I think 4 vids on utube on his wood slicing methods of tool use and control that I think are very good. Ive watched probably hundreds of hours of tutorials from many turners over the yrs and his may well be the best for beginners.

View LeeMills's profile


702 posts in 2111 days

#9 posted 03-18-2020 12:11 AM

I agree with most of your initial advise.
1” Roughing gouge; 1/2” spindle gouge, 1” skew, but a standard diamond parting tool instead of the thin parting tool.
I would add a 3/8” detail spindle gouge and would suggest the Doug Thompson.

Some vendors mentioned, such as Packard, have their tools make in England. For Packard it is Hamlet, for Woodworkers Supply it is Crown. My initial were Sorby and I still use them 30 years later.

In addition to others mentioned you may want to check out Stuart Batty on Vimeo and Brian Havens on youtube.
Both offer very clear instructions for most tools and Stuart covers some topics (such as stance) that few others do.
If you can get a copy of Al Lacer’s The Skew, The Good Side, the Ugly Side it will be a great help. (Title may not be exact) Some state library systems share it between branches and you may have to get on a waiting list. Once you know what is causing problems with the skew it is fairly easy to stop them.

-- We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

View jta's profile


57 posts in 695 days

#10 posted 03-18-2020 02:32 AM

Have to say I really appreciate all the advice folks, seems to be quite the vortex of knowledge (am going to read everything posted and watch a bunch of those videos as well). Definitely appreciate the website suggestions. I live in MI, just head back to AU to visit every now and then.

The lathe I bought based on not really wanting to screw around with older lathes and being recommended against this, and the consistently high reviews here and elsewhere – I also like the VS function. I have no intention of going nuts with purchasing tools or other things, but have sufficient budget to account for ensuring that I am able to get a reasonable set of tools and sharpen them, but more wanted to get a feel for whether the beginner set vs a few good tools was the better approach, and also what people thought about sharpening systems.

I also am pretty safety conscious, so don’t expect me to be running out to try a skew without getting instruction first or reading/viewing everything I can find, as everything I’ve seen makes me very aware they aren’t to be taken lightly (there is a great video out there showing how these things happen that certainly induced the right response). I was more thinking of making a start by learning to use a roughing gouge on a few blanks and get comfortable with the lathe, get used to sharpening a bit, and then perhaps work my way up to the spindle gouge. I’m not someone who has to complete something early, I prefer to refine a skill.

Ok so based on the above comments the following seem to stick out or come to questions:
1” Roughing Gouge – am I going to regret not having slightly smaller roughing gouge (3/4”), or is the larger size here preferable?
1/2” Spindle Gouge – I’m assuming a slightly larger tool is going to be a little easier to find the working sweet spot on, and hence I won’t regret this or should I be just sticking smaller? Or is it better to have both options?
1” Skew – I assume that given the working surface is a little larger this is going to be more forgiving that more narrow skews? Or would a 3/4” be fine?
Diamond parting tool (regular).

LeeMills – for the 3/8” detail spindle gouge I wasn’t clear what you meant?

View Wildwood's profile


2879 posts in 2944 days

#11 posted 03-18-2020 12:02 PM

Besides cost of 1” skew compared to ½” or ¾” smaller sizes easier to control maybe. I use two basic tools for turning pens, ½” or ¾” skew and ¾” roughing gouge. Over the years have accumulated ¼”, ½” ¾’’, 1”, and 1 ¼” skews.

Not much of a price difference or handling between ¾” & 1” roughing gouge depending upon brands and then again look & see.

Seldom use a parting tool for pens but do own thin, bedan, diamond, & square shoulder parting tools. You will not waste much wood with a diamond parting tool easier to use properly won’t bind up in cut.

Reason recommend both 3/8” & ½” spindle gouges you will need both eventually. A 3/8” detail gouge would work just as well, not concerned about brand. If want a Thompson will need to make or buy a handle for the tool.

Another way to save a few bucks is buy unhandled tools whenever available. Have bought several tools this way. More about custom handle thickness & length. Last one bought was my Thompson 5/8” bowl gouge. Not many vendors offer unhandled tool much unless they come custom handles turners prefer. Making your own handles easy op for beginner also good for when store handle fail.

Learning both sharpening tools & basic turning skills those HF spindle turning tool sets not a bad deal if have coupon & can find locally. Whether want to save a few bucks on tools to learn the craft or go after top of the line HSS or exotic steel tools entirely up to you. Starting out simple M2 HSS steel tools will serve you well.

Here are views sharpening turning tools on a wet grinder. I have only used dry grinder with my Wolverine sharpening system. JMHO, wet grinder might be just fine free hand sharpening skew chisels. I’ve used a dry grinder for years and now using just a (coarse/fine)diamond plate for my skews.

-- Bill

View OSU55's profile


2651 posts in 2799 days

#12 posted 03-18-2020 12:20 PM

You need a 3/8” spindle gouge. If choosing between then get a 3/8 vs 1/2. No need for a detail gouge for a beginner or someone limiting # of tools. Aint it great the way everyone agrees! Ha ha

View jta's profile


57 posts in 695 days

#13 posted 03-18-2020 03:28 PM

Bill, in terms of the Skew – is there any difference between the Packard Rolled-Edge Skew Chisels and what other brands sell, as it doesn’t seem to have a regular Skew?

I think I’ll hold off on handles until I’ve got more experience and for future tools, seems like there is more than enough things going on to keep me busy in the meantime.

OSU55 – Wouldn’t choose, just wanted to understand if there was a reason. I’m not budget restricted, just wanted to keep it simple stupid.

View Wildwood's profile


2879 posts in 2944 days

#14 posted 03-18-2020 04:13 PM

Packard house brand made by Hamlet skews come with a rolled edge same as Henry Taylor skews. Rolled edge skews will not dig into too rest as you turn. If the skew you buy comes with square edges sides will end up taking to the bench grinder and put a rolled edge on them. My Henry Taylor skews bought in 1990’s came that way; put rolled edges on them. Still have two of those skews. I do own one ¼” round skew made by Hamlet. Hamlet & Henry Taylor share the same mailing address in UK.

Both Alan Lacer & Richard Raffan sell what called curved or radius skew chisels. Learned to put a curve on two of my Sears skews from Raffan many years ago and it worked well for me! Have since gone back to convention heel & toe design skews. Still have to the 3/4” red handle Sears wore out 1/2” one many years ago while easy to use and sharpen on bench grinder.

Only skew not familiar with owning and using is what’s called an oval skew some folk love them while other hate them. Think just about all brand name turning tools offer an oval skew. Maybe someone here can adds his/her comments on them.

Gimmick Skews, Crown’s SKEWCHIGOUGE & Tompkins V-Skew, seem to work fine until have to resharpen. Due to that and learning curve recommend conventional skew chisels.

-- Bill

View jta's profile


57 posts in 695 days

#15 posted 03-18-2020 09:40 PM

For future folks who might be interested, picked up the Packard’s in the end, 4 tools to begin with:
3/4” Roughing Gouge,
1/2” Spindle Gouge (planning to get a 3/8” later, maybe something that I will make the handle myself).
3/4” Skew
Diamond Parting Tool.

Thanks for all the suggestions and recommended reading/videos.

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